Making the leap

In 2016, Luke Aikins became the first person to complete a planned jump from an aeroplane without a parachute or a wingsuit. Jumping from 25,000 feet, he sped earthwards before eventually landing in a net just 30m square.

Such behaviour might seem like complete madness to most people. The nerve required to take that leap of faith is unimaginable. But the experienced skydiver had been preparing for this moment for 18 months, as had the team around him. He had practised the movements he would need to make to adjust his freefall to hit the target precisely, and he had worked with gymnasts to rehearse the flip he would need to perform to ensure he landed safely on his back (you can see him practising the “flip” move at about 1:30 into the video above).

Meanwhile, the net was precision engineered to cushion his impact. Civil Engineer John Cruikshank had worked out the maths and physics required to slow the plummeting man from 193km/h to zero safely. The net was suspended high in the air from four cranes, supported by air pistons which would compress on impact. It took eight months of testing to be sure that the mechanism would work safely.

The landing site

I use Luke Aikins’ story when I am talking to students about preparing for their exams. Aikins has his team around him, supporting him, for the first part of his fall. These are teachers, friends, family. But there is a moment of truth – about 1:40 into the video for Luke Aikins -when you are on your own and you have to rely on all the preparation you have done to deliver the result you want. It’s just you and the task in hand. The better your preparation, the higher the chance of a good outcome. Of course, it’s never guaranteed: even with the best preparation in the world, things can sometimes go wrong. That’s why it’s never possible to take the stress out of such situations completely. But, if you know that you’ve practised, you know what you need to do, and you know how to do it, you will have the confidence to make the leap and land safely.

We all need to take a deep breath before we make our leap. But, if we know we’ve prepared as well as possible, it gives us the confidence to take that step and – as far as we can – to enjoy the ride.

What’s happening with exams in 2022?

Last week, the exams regulator (Ofqual) and the Department for Education published information about how exams will work in 2022. This included information about adaptations to exams to accommodate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education, the standards which will be used to grade examinations in 2022, results days, and contingency plans in case the pandemic further disrupts education this year. In this week’s blog, I have summarised the key announcements which affect Churchill students taking GCSE, A-level, Cambridge National, BTEC, Cambridge Technical and other qualifications for assessment in summer 2022. I have also recorded a short presentation for students, which you can view below.

Adaptations to exams

Ofqual and the Department for Education have recognised that the pandemic has significantly impacted the educational experience of students over the past two years. To take account of this, the following adaptations will be made to examinations in 2022:

  • GCSE English literature, history, and geography: there will be optional topic and content for these qualifications. This means that certain topics, normally on the specification for assessment, will not be required for the exams in 2022. At Churchill, this means:
    • GCSE English literature: the poetry anthology will not be assessed
    • GCSE history: Elizabethan England 1558-1588 will not be assessed
    • GCSE geography: paper 1, topic 3: challenges of an urbanising world will not be assessed
  • GCSE sciences: if necessary, centres will be allowed to deliver practical work in GCSE sciences by demonstration. We will not be using this adaptation at Churchill as we believe it is essential that students taking GCSE sciences experience practical work themselves, rather than simply seeing it demonstrated.
  • A level sciences: centres will be allowed to assess the Common Practical Assessment Criteria (CPAC) across the minimum number of practical activities required to enable students to demonstrate their competence in A-level biology, chemistry, and physics. We will not be using this adaptation as we believe it is important for our A-level scientists to experience the full range of practical work available to them with our state-of-the-art equipment and facilities in the Athene Donald Building. We believe that this will support their progress and lead to better examination outcomes.
  • GCSE and A-level art and design and textiles: students taking GCSE, AS and A level art and design (including textiles) will be assessed on their portfolio only, with no final examination.
  • Advance notice for all other GCSE, AS and A-level subjects: exam boards will provide advanced information about the focus of the content of exams for all GCSE, AS and A-level subjects except GCSE English literature, history, and geography by 7 February 2022 at the latest. This is normally the time by which the majority of courses of study have been completed, and teaching turns to exam preparation and revision. This adaptation means that teachers and candidates will know which topics will and won’t come up in the exams in the summer, enabling revision to focus just on those aspects which will be assessed.
  • Formula sheets: students will be given a formula sheet for GCSE mathematics and a revised equation sheet for GCSE physics and combined science. This means that they will not need to memorise so many formulae and equations in preparation for the exams – although they will still need to know how and when to use them correctly.

We think that this is a reasonable and fair set of adaptations to take account of pandemic disruption. It will relieve pressure on the intensive revision period through the spring, enabling students and their teachers to focus on the content they will need for their exams in the summer.

Grading standards

There has been much discussion about what standard will be used to assess examinations in 2022. The “standard” essentially means deciding how many candidates should receive each grade in each subject – how many “A” grades, “B” grades and so on there should be (or the equivalent numerical grades at GCSE). A significantly higher number of candidates achieved the top grades nationally in 2020 and 2021 under the Centre Assessed Grades and Teacher Assessed Grades systems used in place of exams, than achieved top grades the last time exams were sat (in 2019).

Ofqual has announced that it intends to get back quickly to how grading was before the pandemic. However, to recognise the disruption from the pandemic, they won’t do it in one jump. Instead, 2022 will be a transition year to reflect that we are in a pandemic recovery period. The standard set by Ofqual for 2022 will reflect a point midway between 2021 and 2019 when it comes to grading, before returning in 2023 to results that are in line with those before the pandemic began. Jo Saxton, the Chief Regulator, explains the rationale for this decision in a blog on Ofqual’s website, which you can read here.

We feel this is a reasonable compromise, with a return to normal exam standards preceded by a transition year which recognises the disruption caused by COVID-19. It means that more top grades will be available to students in 2022 than was the case in 2019, or than will be the case in 2023. All students, across England, will be competing across the same exam papers to achieve those grades.

We do not yet know what this midway point between 2021 and 2019 will look like on a subject-by-subject basis. Exam boards will use data as a starting point, to align their standards in a subject. But the grade boundaries for each subject will be set by the senior examiners after they have reviewed the work produced by students in their exams – these boundaries will not be available to teachers or to candidates in advance.

UCAS predicted grades

For Year 13 students applying to university or other courses through UCAS, teachers have been advised to use the 2019 standards to determine predicted grades. This is because 2019 was the last time clear grade boundaries in each subject were published, so it is the only consistent standard it is possible to use. Here at Churchill we will use existing Year 12 assessments and the 2019 grading standards to generate UCAS predicted grades, although we will follow the regulator’s guidance to give any borderline students the benefit of any doubt in this process. Please remember, however, that UCAS predictions are made by teachers using their professional judgment and experience; they cannot be negotiated upwards by students or their families.

Results Days

Results days will be on:

  • Thursday 18th August 2022: AS, A-level and other level 3 qualifications
  • Thursday 25th August 2022: GCSE and other level 2 qualifications

Further details about the format of these days will be released nearer the time.

Contingency Plans

Having learned the lesson of the past two years, I am pleased to confirm that the government is drawing up contingency plans in case the pandemic takes an unexpected turn and exams cannot proceed in summer 2022 as planned. The current proposals are that Teacher Assessed Grades would again be used, but with much clearer guidance on the kinds of evidence that could be used to support the teacher assessment. This is likely to be based around mock exams in the majority of subjects.

At Churchill, we hope and expect that exams will go ahead as planned in 2022. However, all examination candidates, especially those in Year 11 and 13, should prepare for their mock exams as though they were the real thing. Not only will this provide a good evidence base in case of further disruption, but it will put students at a significant advantage in terms of revision and preparation for the summer.

Exam preparation advice

Balance in all things (source)

The announcements last week confirm the plan for exams to go ahead in 2022, with some additional support to recognise the disruption to education that students have experienced. We believe these measures are as fair as could be expected in the circumstances.

Our message to students is this: your exams are going ahead. You know what you need to revise, and you will be able to focus this even more as you approach the summer. Listen to the feedback you get from your teachers, and use the revision techniques that you have been given and that will continue to be provided throughout the year. Don’t leave it all until the last minute: you should be revising consistently, a little and often, throughout this year.

Above all, keep a sense of balance and proportion: these exams are important, and we know they really matter, but you also need to look after yourselves. Make sure you are taking regular breaks, maintaining your leisure activities, and talking to someone you trust if you are struggling. We want you to get the best possible results, whilst staying healthy: keeping things in balance and proportion is your top priority. We will do everything we can to support you with this.

Open Evening 2021

It was great to welcome so many visitors to the Academy on Wednesday evening for our annual Open Evening. Having designed and run a virtual event last year, we worked hard to open up the Academy safely to visitors so they could make an informed choice of secondary school.

In pre-pandemic times, we would gather visitors in the Academy hall to hear the perspectives of our students, and a presentation from myself. This year, to avoid overcrowding, we put that presentation online and sent it out to everyone who had pre-booked tickets in advance. It was playing in the hall anyway, so anyone could see it if they wanted to! And here it is: Sixth Form student Bethan, House Captain Pritika, and Year 7 students Jude and Frankie give their perspectives on Churchill, alongside my explanation of why I think Churchill is the right choice for secondary education.

Putting this presentation online really helped ensure a smooth flow of visitors through the Academy, with plenty of time for them to visit all the departments and learn as much as they could about Churchill Academy & Sixth Form. Our younger visitors had the opportunity to collect a sticker from every department they visited, and a complete set was rewarded with a “future student” pin badge from the Sixth Form Centre.

Open Evening is always an event that makes me feel so proud of Churchill. I feel like it “opens the lid” on our school for others to see what I see every day! Our staff, brimming with enthusiasm for their subjects and the extra-curricular programme. Our buildings, more and more reflecting the state-of-the-art learning environment we are developing. And, above all, our students. They really are amazing. Tour guides, department helpers, student leaders, and performers of every discipline turned out in huge numbers. They conducted themselves knowledgeably, confidently, articulately and with such enthusiasm about the Academy – it was wonderful to see and hear! Many of them spoke about how glad they were to be back in school after the long lockdowns of recent years, and the video below captures some of what they are looking forward to the most.

Churchill has been oversubscribed every year from 2017 onwards, with waiting lists operating in all year groups at the moment. If you were at our open evening this week, you will understand why. It’s humbling to know that so many families put their trust in us. They trust that we will help make a positive difference to the most important thing in their lives – their children. And that, in turn, their children will make a positive difference to themselves, to the Academy, and to the wider world around them. That is why we do what we do. And there’s nothing that makes me prouder.

Catching up with our new Year 7s

Our new Year 7 students have coped brilliantly with the transition from primary to secondary school – especially considering that the usual transition day and drama day could not happen “in person” this year because of the pandemic. This meant that, for many of them, their first time stepping on site was the day before term started for their COVID tests! Despite all the challenges, staff have been full of praise for the attitude and approach our youngest students have shown.

I’m always keen to hear from our students themselves, so I spent an hour last week with four of our newest students – Charlotte, Issy, Maddie and James – to find out what it was like for them moving up from primary school to Churchill Academy & Sixth Form. What follows is a transcript of our conversation!

The Year 7 student panel in my office, 16th September 2021

What was it like moving up from primary school?

  • Issy: I was kind of disappointed not to have the transition day, but we did have Churchill teachers visit us in primary.
  • Charlotte: Yes, we had Mr Cross and Mrs Moon visit us. With them coming to our primary school, it really helped a lot.
  • Maddie: Mr Cross, Mrs McKay and Mrs Moon came, and it was nice because they talked to us about what was going to happen. They showed us the uniform, the planners, and how it was all going to work.

Now that you’re here, did they tell you everything you needed to know? Was there anything you wished you knew that you didn’t know?

  • Maddie: Not really! They gave us a lot of information. And there wasn’t anything they didn’t tell us. They didn’t mention how long we’d have to queue for food!

You started the year coming in for your COVID tests. How was that?

  • Issy: It was fine. We got to look around the school a bit, and we snuck around to see what it was like.
  • Maddie: For our tests, we came in one way and out another, so we didn’t really see how things joined up. Things make more sense now I know where everything is.

On your first day, it was just Year 7. What was that like?

  • Maddie: it was so quiet!
  • Charlotte: it’s so busy now!

What’s it like now?

  • Issy: it’s nice to see some of the people from years before, who came before I did and who have now been at Churchill for a few years.
  • Charlotte: I was really worried about coming in and there being lots of other years, like Year 10s, Year 9s, Year 8s, but then coming in on the first day and it being just Year 7s was really helpful because I didn’t get so nervous. That was the main thing I was nervous about…that and getting lost, but then we got shown around so we didn’t get lost and it’s pretty easy once you know where things are.

Have any of your got lost?

  • All: not properly…
  • Issy: I got lost twice, trying to find the toilets in the block! I was kind of worried, that I would get lost, but I haven’t really.
  • Maddie: it was really nice having just the year 7s on the first day, because it was like everyone was getting lost together, and there wasn’t a load of other people around at the same time who know exactly where they’re going, but they’re really old and I don’t want to ask them!

And what about the older students? How has that been now that the school is full again?

  • Issy: I know most of my friends’ siblings, so it’s okay.
  • Charlotte: it felt quite weird seeing all the older years, and then seeing people from your primary that you hadn’t seen in like four years, and now you’re in the same school as them again…it’s like “I remember you, and I remember you,” and then you just keep saying it to everyone…
  • James: I’ve got used to them…it’s like a stream…they are going to their lessons and we’re going to our lessons
  • Issy: I got stuck at the bottom of the stairs going into Maths as Year 11 were going in…I just had to wait my turn to get to my classroom.
  • James: when all the school is moving around it’s like a river…you have to wait for a break in the stream to get into the flow.

Why did you choose Churchill?

  • James: it was the simplest place to go
  • Charlotte: both of my parents came here
  • Issy: it was the closest, and all of my friends were coming here, and it looked really nice
  • Maddie: we went to look at about five different schools, but they didn’t feel right…and then we came here, and it did feel right. It sounds like a story, but it’s true!

We went to look at about five different schools, but they didn’t feel right…and then we came here, and it did feel right. It sounds like a story, but it’s true!

Maddie, Year 7

How different is it at secondary compared to primary?

  • Charlotte: Definitely secondary is a big difference from primary, it’s like a big step up. At primary we were settled, and it was easy, but then in secondary they really push you to get things better. In secondary they say “you can do it better, believe in yourself, do it.”
  • Issy: It’s a big difference, like Charlotte said, but then I thought we’d get loads of homework. And we do get a lot, but to do over a longer period of time. So at primary school I’d get homework to do every day, like a page, but at secondary we get homework to do by the next week. And also it’s a huge size difference, like it’s about five times the size. And also, at primary, they’d call you in from break so you’d be on time, but at secondary if you’re late, then it’s your fault – nobody’s going to tell you to be on time.
  • Maddie: It’s a lot bigger. The classrooms are a lot bigger, especially in Science. They’re like double the size of my classroom at primary school. I feel a lot more free…that sounds a bit weird, but you feel you can do what you want a lot more. In my primary school, in the dinner hall, they told us “you sit there, you sit there,” but at secondary you can sit with anyone at dinner time.
  • Issy: In primary we had quite a big library, but mainly they were work books. Here there are loads of different types of books, and computer rooms, which I love because I love reading.
  • James: it’s weird because it feels the same, but also different…like I see the same people, and it’s the same kind of routine, but it also feels different. It feels more detached: at primary, we left our books in our drawers, then came home, and it felt like the school life and the home life were different, but here parents are move involved, like if you get an R or a C they can see it, but at primary they’d have to tell them or ring them. On my first day here it felt like it was more of a day trip!

In secondary they really push you to get things better. In secondary they say “you can do it better, believe in yourself, do it.”

Charlotte, Year 7

How have you found making new friends, meeting new people?

  • Charlotte It’s definitely way more than primary because you’re not stuck with the same people from your primary class so you don’t have so you can meet new people from like Wrington primary school Saint Andrews and so on.
  • Issy: It’s a lot easier being able to go round at break and lunch and meet new people.
  • Maddie: It’s really nice because you know people from your learning group and you walk everywhere together and that is so nice because I’ve made a friend that I didn’t know before and now we walk everywhere together.
  • James: It’s more complicated; in like primary school it’s more simple because we had like one social group but here I have a group for tutor, a group for learning groups, a social group…I have different friends for different things. It’s complicated!

Is it what you thought it would be?

  • Charlotte: It’s better than primary where it was more closed up tight. It’s like Maddie said, I just feel free now. You can do what you like, walk everywhere, even walk upstairs and we don’t have to stay in the same room for six hours.
  • Issy: Oh yeah I don’t know how to describe it. It’s just like a huge different group of people now, a huge variety and it’s not going to be the same all the time.
  • Maddie: it’s very different to primary but it’s similar to how I expected.
  • James: I had a lot of time to like imagine because there was six months where everyone was talking about the big Churchill thing! I just imagined it differently but it’s not better or worse, it’s just different than I thought. Like with library I just imagine it like dusky and oak and actually it’s bright and open.

What advice would you give to someone in Year 5 or 6 thinking about coming to Churchill?

  • Charlotte: I would tell them that if they want to go to Churchill then follow your dream and do it and don’t be worried at all because it’ll be fine once you get used to it. It is a big step but then when you’ve done the first day you’ll love it so just follow your dreams.
  • Issy: it may seem huge and it might be for a few days but then they get you get used to it and it feels smaller when you know almost everywhere.
  • Maddie: when you walk through the bit where you come in and you see all the buildings if feels a bit overwhelming, but you get used to it. You feel like… after my first day I thought I’m meant to be here, and it feels like I’ve been here for ages.
  • James: Once you get used to it it’s not really that big of a change. But I do recommend that you have a backup plan in case you miss the bus on the first day, because on the first day I missed the bus and I was very lucky my mum was there!
After all that chat, we had a chance to have a look at the Lego collection I keep in my office!

It was great to hear from our youngest students, who were full of enthusiasm, wisdom and insight. They are already great ambassadors for the Academy – and they’ve only been here a few weeks! Thank you to Charlotte, Maddie, James and Issy for a really enjoyable hour.

The Kindness Test

I am a keen listener to All In The Mind, the Radio 4 programme about psychology, so I was delighted when the presenter, Claudia Hammond, devoted a whole episode to the theme of kindness just before we returned to school. Kindness is one of the Academy’s three core values. A strength of the heart, it is a cornerstone of our Academy culture and central to our approach to education. I was therefore fascinated to hear what the psychological research has to tell us about the subject.

The episode was devoted to the Kindness Test, a mass research project from the University of Sussex. The project seeks to explore how kindness is viewed within society at large and will add to the growing research base on the importance of kindness, exploring issues such as: 

  • What are the most common kind acts people carry out?
  • Where do people most often experience kindness?  
  • What are the barriers to behaving more kindly? 
  • How is kindness valued in the workplace? 
  • Is kindness viewed as a weakness?  
  • What prevents people from being kinder? 
  • How does kindness relate to factors such as well-being, mental health, geographical location, gender and personality? 
  • How is kindness connected with compassion and empathy? 
  • How does kindness relate to our value systems?  

The questionnaire for the research project is only open to participants who are 18 years of age or older, so unfortunately our students cannot participate – although I think they would have a lot to say about the topic and plenty of examples to share! But the radio programme which accompanied it was a fascinating exploration of ideas around kindness, and what we already know. Here are some of my key takeaways:

Kindness is instinctive

Chief researcher Professor Robert Banerjee explained the theory that the “warm glow” we get from helping others activates the same part of our brain as eating delicious food, or receiving a treat for ourselves. Studies have shown that young children at the age of two will help others, or comfort those in distress, even when no reward is expected for themselves. All of this suggests that kindness to others is something instinctive that gives our species an evolutionary advantage. Perhaps kindness strengthened our stone age or Neanderthal communities, building trust and mutual support between individuals so that they would function more effectively as one unit? This evolutionary advantage now manifests in our modern society as the “warm glow” of doing something kind for someone else.

Kindness is selfless

Even though we receive a wellbeing boost when we’re kind to others, psychologists don’t think this is the reason why we are kind. In fact, if we are kind to others only because we know we’ll get rewarded for it – either with praise, recognition, or a physical reward – we don’t get the same “warm glow” as when we’re kind just because we want to help somebody else out. That selfless kindness, when we help someone out without any thought for recognition or reward for ourselves, feels better than doing the right thing because we know we’ll get something out of it. It sounds like a contradiction – but it makes sense!

Kindness builds a strong culture

Jürgen Klopp is cited as a “leading light” in kind leadership

Pinky Lilani, one of the guests on the programme, discussed research undertaken with the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford into kindness and leadership. Using “leading lights” including Liverpool Manager Jürgen Klopp, the researchers found that kindness has the ability to build trust, confidence and loyalty in business, sport, and industry. It is becoming an increasingly influential leadership style, characterised by empathy and respect – and it gets results.

Kindness isn’t soft

One of the criticisms of kindness is that it’s soft, or that is can be perceived as a weakness if you’re too kind. But actually, providing honest critique and feedback to somebody is kind, as it helps them to improve – but it is neither soft, weak or easy. It’s actually really hard to do. But, when someone can do better, the kindest thing we can do it to help them to get there.

Honest, constructive feedback can be hard to give – and to receive!

At Churchill we work really hard to build a culture where we can provide that honest, helpful feedback to help one another improve. We talk about being “hard on the content, supportive of the person.” This means approaching feedback with the highest expectations, but with empathy about how the critique will be received. On the other side, we expect those receiving the feedback to focus on the improvements they can make to continue to make a positive difference to themselves, understanding that the feedback comes with kind intentions.

Kindness helps us understand diversity

Robin Banerjee gave a really helpful explanation of how empathy and kindness help us understand difference. He puts his case so perfectly that I quote it here rather than attempting to summarise:

The fact of the matter is that there is always going to be differences of opinion, different perspectives, different points of view. Part of the challenge for all of us as we grow up…is navigating difference, working out how to respond when other people have different perspectives from you. And that’s the cornerstone of empathy – to walk in someone else’s shoes, to see the world from their perspective. So I think one of the things that we need to recognise is that it isn’t about standardising everything so that everyone thinks in exactly the same way. The beauty of our world comes from difference, comes from diversity. So kindness is all about the stance that we take in navigating that diversity.

Robin Banerjee, Professor of Psychology at the University of Sussex and principal investigator for the Kindness Test

It was a fascinating programme, full of insights into a quality that is so important to us at Churchill. I have filled in the questionnaire; I look forward to hearing what the research discovers about kindness in our world today when it is published in 2022.

Welcome back!

And, just like that, we’re back! It has been fantastic this week to have the Academy full of students again, getting back to learning. The screens are already filling up with extra curricular opportunities, including auditions for the school production. It promises to be spectacular!

As term has begun, I have met with all main school students for their “welcome back” assemblies. In those assemblies I have been through the practical arrangements for the year ahead, but also taken the opportunity to reinforce our vision, values and expectations so that everyone is clear.

Site Development

The interior of Stuart House, August 2021

Over the summer we have completed the second and begun the third and final phase of our redevelopment works in Stuart and Lancaster House, home to Humanities and Languages. The second phase has seen the completion of the middle section of the building, with further new air-conditioned classrooms, staff offices, and facilities. The third phase began with the removal of all the internal walls and classrooms around the Stuart Green Room – as you can see in the picture above, it created a massive space! Contractors are now beginning the process of building new classrooms, offices, student toilets and a social space, all with the latest materials designed to control acoustics within the building – and with air conditioning as standard. We expect this work to be completed by March 2022, when we will be able to move in!

COVID

COVID is still with us, and we are still taking precautions in line with the government guidance. This includes the testing of students on their return to school, and the re-introduction of twice-weekly home testing for COVID-19. In my assemblies, I reiterated the current COVID guidance and procedures, which are explained in detail on the website.

Why are we here?

The start of the year is the ideal time to remind us all of why we are here – why Churchill Academy & Sixth Form exists in the first place. Our purpose is simple:

To inspire and enable young people to make a positive difference

I talked to our students about the positive difference they can make to themselves, every single day they attend the Academy. At the end of each day, I asked them to reflect to themselves: what do I know now that I didn’t know yesterday? What am I better at now than I was twenty four hours ago? How have I improved?

It’s also the case that our students can make a positive difference to the Academy that they belong to. Each of them is unique; each of them brings something special to our community. Their being here – the contribution that they make – makes the Academy better.

And, finally, it is our ambition that our students can go out into the world and – as a result of all they have learned at Churchill – make a positive difference in our society. We hope that they will be able to solve problems, help others, and improve things for all of us and for generations to come. It’s a lofty ambition, but when you look at the potential of our Churchill students this year I genuinely believe that anything is possible.

Inclusion and diversity

I outlined an important focus of our work this year, on inclusion and diversity, but explaining what we mean by it. In simple terms, this priority is about:

Ensuring that everybody is welcome, and every member of the Academy feels that they belong

This is a shared responsibility for us all, and something we will be promoting and developing – with the help of our students – throughout the year. It is essential we get this right so we can continue to build the friendly, welcoming community we are all so proud to be a part of.

Sustainability

Our second area of focus for the year is on our own sustainability. We have an ambition to be a carbon-neutral school by 2030. This is no easy task in a resource-hungry institution like ours! But, again with our students’ help, we are driving down energy usage, driving down waste, and improving recycling, encouraging re-usable resources, and looking after our green spaces and facilities. Lots more to follow on this as the year progresses.

Learning

At the end of my “welcome back” assembly, I turn to our core business: learning. I take every opportunity, including this one, to remind our students of the six habits and dispositions that have been shown through research to have the biggest impact on successful learning. These are the things that we promote through our effort grades, our values, our lesson planning, and our classroom expectations.

Our learning values

These are the things that we expect from our students every minute of every hour of every day. From my visits to classrooms this week, they have taken this message to heart. I saw Year 8 students grappling with the concept of infinity in Maths and exploring the story of Edward Colston in Drama; Year 10 students learning about synecdoche in English; Year 7s exploring the Norman conquest of Britain and responding to medieval Occitan troubadour music; Year 11 learning about the nervous system’s response to stimuli; and Sixth Form students learning from alumni about successfully applying to Oxford and Cambridge University. And that’s just scratching the surface!

The year’s got off to a great start: it’s up to all of us to keep it going!

End of year assembly

In my end-of-year assemblies this week, I have tried to do three things. Firstly, I have tried to look back over the year that we’ve had. Secondly, I have celebrated the successes of our students – including awarding the House Cup! And finally, I have looked ahead to next year.

The year gone by

SARS-CoV-2 virus

The year has, of course, been dominated by the coronavirus. It is a tiny thing, ≈0.1 μm in diameter, yet it has led to more than 5m cases and 128,000 deaths in England, according to government figures. It’s worth remembering: this is not normal. This is not how we are used to living. And we hope that it will change.

It’s easy to characterise the year gone by in terms of what we’ve missed out on. From October, we’ve missed out on our vertical tutor groups, which make our House system so strong. After Christmas we were locked down, with some students joining us in school for Frontline, but most of them set up at home with laptops, tablets or mobile phones to access Google Meets and Zooms. We missed out on face to face teaching, on seeing our friends, and on seeing our families. We’ve missed out on holidays, on trips to the cinema or the theatre, on seeing live music and sporting events.

It has been a hard year. But I don’t want to focus on what we’ve missed out on. What I want to do is to be grateful for the fact that we are here. We are together at the end of this really difficult year with a lot to be grateful for. If we start with where we are as a country, we can see that many, many fewer people are now dying as a result of COVID-19. We should be grateful to the amazing National Health Service for the vaccination programme they have rolled out, as well as the incredible care they have offered during this pandemic.

As a school we are grateful that, thanks to the efforts and focus of our students during lockdown and beyond, we are seeing that the vast majority have remained on track with learning through this year. In other words, our students are not a million miles away from where we would expect them to be in if they hadn’t spend several months learning through a screen.

Celebrating success

I was really pleased that we were able to complete our Activities Week and Sports Day towards the end of term, despite the pandemic. These were great opportunities to celebrate successes, including learning beyond the classroom in different environments. Of course, Tudor House won through on Sports Day, although Lancaster led the way in Year 8, and Hanover in Years 9 and 10 – so next year it’s all up for grabs!

Over this last week of term, alongside holding the finals of our Bake Off, Poetry and Spelling Bee competitions, we have been sending home our Celebration of Success certificates to students whose attitude to learning, academic accomplishments, and personal qualities shine through day after day, week after week, month after month. It has been a great honour to review those awards and see them added to this year’s Roll of Honour. I hope that, next year, we will be able to hand them out in person.

The established end-of-year traditions have also been disrupted this year – and the House Cup competition is no exception. There have been many fewer inter-house events than we would have normally held, and we are really looking forward to coming back full throttle next year! The competition was still held however, with the following winners:

  • Academics: combination of each House’s attendance, conduct points and effort grades – winners STUART HOUSE and LANCASTER HOUSE.
  • Competitions: combined totals from all the inter-house competitions – winners TUDOR HOUSE.
  • Overall House Cup Winners: combined totals from all the inter-house activities – winners TUDOR HOUSE

Congratulations to all our students – and especially to Tudor House!

Looking ahead

The pandemic will still be with us in the year ahead. However the new guidance on contact tracing and isolation outlined in my recent update letter to parents will, we hope, reduce the disruption caused to education. We are looking forward to what we hope will be an uninterrupted year with our students, to get back to what we do best – inspiring and enabling young people to make a positive difference.

We are so grateful to our students for the positive difference they have made to our Academy community by being part of it this year. In our students I see bundles of potential, just waiting to be channelled and unleashed on the world. Even when things have been difficult, they have been a pleasure to work with. We are so proud of the positive difference they have made to themselves this year: the progress they have made in their learning; the confidence, resilience and determination they have built up as they have overcome challenges; and the kindness they have shown to themselves and others in their actions. As we step forward to next year in pursuit of the priorities laid out in our development plan, we look forward to what we can achieve together.

More immediately, of course, we are looking forward to a well-deserved summer break. After the year we’ve had, our students deserve some time to rest, recharge and recover – and our staff desperately need it too! The Headteacher’s Blog will return in September.

Churchill Academy & Sixth Form, summer 2021

Sports Day 2021

After last year’s virtual event, this year we were determined to bring Sports Day back “for real” – and the 2021 event delivered! Year group bubbles were the order of the day, with separate sections of the field for each group of competitors. Year 7 and 8 started on the top field for the Tug of War, whilst Years 9 and 10 began the day with track and field events on the bottom field and the 3G. After break, both halves of the school swapped over, before all coming together in year group areas to watch and compete in the the track finale: 100m, 200m, 300m and 4x100m relay.

House spirit was in full display, with the mascots making a big entrance and encouraging their teams throughout the day. Face-paint and glitter was liberally applied – to the extent that some Windsor students began to resemble their smurf mascot! – and the cheering never let up from start to finish. The whole day was soundtracked by Mr Hartley in the DJ booth, including singlaongs to Three Lions and Sweet Caroline in anticipation of the England men’s football team’s appearance in the final of the Euros.

Competitors and spectators were well catered for, with Aspen’s providing all-day barbecue food and the Sixth Form ice-cream stand proving very popular! The Sixth Form provided much support for the day, acting as guides, timekeepers, litter-pickers, umpires and more.

At the business end of the day, the competition was fierce. Peter Skeen (Year 11) and Mr Gale kept the scores and records regularly updated in a magnificently sprawling spreadsheet. In total eight school records and twenty seven house records were broken on the day. You can see all the record breakers on the Academy website here.

The broken records all contributed to the overall competition, which saw Tudor House establish an early lead. Lancaster mustered a late surge with some very impressive sprint performances, whilst Hanover overtook Windsor into second place by one point courtesy of a victory in the final event of the day – the Year 10 boys’ 4x100m relay. Tudor’s lead proved unassailable, and they completed the double by also lifting the Tug of War Trophy.

Our student reporters were out and about throughout the day, and got their newspaper published almost as soon as the winner was announced! You can read The Finishing Line on the Academy website here.

Thanks to all the competitors, spectators and staff who made Sports Day possible. It was just what we needed after the year we’ve had! Enjoy some pictures from the day in the gallery below.

Activities Week 2021

Activities Week is a vital part of the Academy calendar. It’s an opportunity for us to take learning outside the classroom, to develop vital skills such as teamwork, leadership, creativity and problem solving whilst also building confidence in new environments. This year, more than ever, our students have needed the opportunity to get out into the fresh air and enjoy the feeling of freedom in the summer sunshine (and occasional British summer downpour). Not to mention that having lots of time outdoors greatly reduces the risk of infection with covid and the chance of any more bubbles popping in the final week of term…

It’s normally the time when we are able to get our residential trips away to Europe and beyond. This year that hasn’t been possible, but the staff have done an amazing job of organising superb activities around the Academy site and our beautiful local area. It’s been a big logistical challenge, but we’ve managed it! We’re grateful to Adventure Bristol and Mendip Outdoor for helping us with their expertise, and to the amazing team of staff who have pitched in, helped out and solved problems throughout the week. I must pay particular tribute to Mr Davies, who masterminded the whole thing and then ended up having to call the shots remotely whilst self-isolating at home as a close contact of a coronavirus case. What a trooper!

I have tried to take in as many of the activities as possible this week. On Monday, I spent a fantastic day with Year 7 on their sponsored walk along the Strawberry Line and up to Crooks Peak. I started at the back and tried to power-walk all the way to the front, so I would see the whole of Year 7 walking. I managed it – although I paid for it the next day with very stiff legs! Luckily on Tuesday I was based in school, with Year 7 again on the Adventure Bristol activities and Year 10 on Basecamp with candle-making, nail art, some delicious looking cream teas and plenty more besides…

On Wednesday I ventured out again with Year 10 the water sports day – although half of the day was more like mud sports as the students tackled a tough-mudder-style assault course. Having seen some of our students fling themselves through a mud pit with glorious abandon, I don’t think I’ll ever see them in the same light again!

Finally, on Thursday I was back at school with Year 9 and Year 8 – although sadly I had to spend several hours chained to my desk wading through the latest government guidance on Step 4 of the roadmap and working out how much of what we’d already planned for September we would need to unpick and re-do. Such are the joys of headship! I did manage to get out to most of the activities as well, and even manged to race Mr Sharp over the giant inflatable assault course in the sports hall. I’ll let Year 9 tell you who won.

I’ve had my camera with me throughout the week, and thought readers might enjoy my photo diary.

Activities Week ends with Sports Day tomorrow. There are records to be broken (you can see the current records on our website) and it’s really all to play for. We last had a proper Sports Day in 2019, so we don’t know what our Year 7 and 8 students are capable of in track and field. At the same time, the transfer of some older students to Lancaster House in September has meant that Stuart House’s recent dominance may be under threat. Who will win? Only time will tell!

Academy Priorities 2021-22

Churchill Academy & Sixth Form is an independent entity governed by the Academy Trust Board. Our Trustees are responsible for ensuring high standards of achievement for all children and young people in the school by ensuring clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction; holding me and my senior leadership team to account for the educational performance of the Academy and its students, and the performance management of staff; and overseeing the financial performance of the Academy and making sure its money is well spent.

Our Trustees are volunteers, who give their time willingly and freely in the interests of the students of the Academy. They have been working tirelessly (albeit mostly remotely) to continue their governance of the Academy through the pandemic. The significant investments in our site, our staffing, and resources to keep children safe and learning have all been as a result of the board’s skilful, knowledgeable and expert governance. In fact, as we reflected this week at our first in-person, socially distanced meeting since the pandemic began, our Academy is in a very strong position to ensure that the education recovery from the pandemic continues for our students.

This week we have published our priorities and development plan for the coming year. The development plan supports the second year of progress towards the Five Year Plan which sets our sets our strategic direction from 2020-2025. You can read the full Academy Priorities and Development Plan for 2021-22 on the Academy website, but in this post I will take you through the key areas which we will be focusing on in the next academic year.

Setting the direction

The past year has been dominated by the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19 has caused unprecedented disruption to education, with two years of cancelled exams and two separate periods of national lockdown seeing the Academy closed to all but the children of key workers and identified vulnerable students. Even when schools were fully open, self-isolations disrupted learning, and public health concerns suspended our ability to bring our community together through assemblies, vertical tutoring, and extra-curricular activities.

In the wider world, we have heard the voices of those who have too often been marginalised and oppressed have come to the fore on social media and on the streets. This swirling maelstrom of tension and conflict has resonated at Churchill too; we must do all we can to help our students understand the contexts of inequality so that they can go on to make a positive difference themselves in building a more tolerant, inclusive, just and equal society.

Despite the challenges, 2020-21 saw the realisation of developmental work on the curriculum, teaching and learning, and student leadership. The success of our bid to rebuild Stuart and Lancaster house areas saw the realisation of long-term plans around the learning environment. This year is about the implementation of those long-term plans, with careful quality assurance to assess their impact.

Priority 1: Inclusion and diversity

Our top priority is to continue to develop our values-led culture so that everyone understands the importance and value of diversity and inclusion, particularly with reference to ethnicity, gender and neurodiversity. This means that we will be working hard to ensure that staff and students fully understand the underlying issues relating to inclusion in schools, so that all students feel welcome and thrive at the Academy.

Central to that will be a focused drive to ensure that everybody understands that there is no place for racism, sexual harassment, discrimination or prejudice at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form or in society. These are big issues for us as a country, and across the world, at the moment. If we are to achieve our purpose as an Academy – to inspire and enable young people to make a positive difference – we must work together to ensure that all our students are able to help ensure that we continue to make progress as a society. It is vital that everyone has an equal chance to succeed, no matter where they come from, who they are, how they identify, or how they experience the world. We intend that our education over the coming year, and beyond, will address these issues head on.

Priority 2: Student engagement and leadership

We know that our students are wonderful. Our second priority for next year is to ensure that we give them the opportunity to show the leadership we know they are capable of, in service of the Academy and the wider community. This work has already started this year, with the formation of the Student Council and the introduction of the leadership ladders. With the Academy closed to the majority of students from January through to March, we weren’t able to make as much progress with this as we would have liked – but we have great plans for the year ahead!

At the same time, as we emerge from the grip of the pandemic, we want to revitalise our extra-curricular programme, inter-house competitions, trips, activities and all the things that bubbles and COVID restrictions have prevented us from doing – all the “extra” stuff that makes Churchill special. Our aim is to ensure that every single student can participate in, and benefit from, the experiences that the Academy has to offer.

Priority 3: Teaching and Learning, and Priority 4: Curriculum

Our core business is wrapped up in priorities 3 and 4. The curriculum is what we teach; our pedagogy is how we teach it. We have developed a set of evidence-based teaching and learning principles which characterise effective pedagogy; over the past year we have been weaving those principles through our newly redesigned curriculum. September 2021 will see the roll-out of both these vital aspects. This roll-out will be accompanied by careful ongoing evaluation, to make sure that both what we are teaching, and the way we are teaching it, are working in tandem to ensure that our students make the best possible progress in every lesson.

Priority 5: Sustainability

Our final objective for next year focuses on the fifth element of the Five Year Plan, which has the goal of ensuring we are a sustainable institution financially, environmentally and in human resources. Behind the scenes we will be working hard to ensure we are as efficient as possible, so that every penny possible can continue to be spent on improving the education of our students. More visibly, we will be pushing forward on our Green Churchill agenda, improving recycling provision and driving down our carbon footprint still further in pursuit of our goal of being carbon neutral by 2030. We will be relying on our students to help us drive this part of our work – we want to be the greenest school in the south west, if not the country!

These five objectives are ambitious and challenging – but that ambition is what makes Churchill successful. We have achieved so much this past year, despite the pandemic; I am excited at the prospect of what is possible with a full and hopefully uninterrupted year ahead of us.